Dr. Per Henningsgaard joined the PSU faculty as director of publishing in 2012. He recently accepted a lecturer position at Curtin University in Perth, Australia. In this brief interview, Per reflects on his time with Ooligan and what’s he learned from the experience as well as what’s next in his publishing career.
What first attracted you to the Ooligan program and PSU? Considering all the places you could work, why Portland and why Ooligan?
Let’s be honest: academic jobs are hard to come by, so it’s not like any of us have a lot of options. Having said that, I already had a tenure-track job, so why did I leave it for PSU? A whole host of reasons. The opportunity to be a program director and shape the educational experience of more students than I could ever affect in my classroom alone. The vibrant independent publishing scene in Portland. Ooligan Press, which is a one-of-a-kind educational opportunity that perfectly combines so many things I’ve been passionate about for a long time: a regional focus, the opportunity to incorporate a hands-on experience in the heady academic environment, and a commitment to community and social justice.
Upon becoming Director of Publishing and taking stock of the program, what was your first priority? Was there anything you felt was or wasn’t working particularly well during that time?
My first priority was to get the curriculum in order. It was no big secret that the English Department had considered axing the graduate program in Book Publishing prior to reversing course and hiring me, so I knew there was work to be done to build support for the program. The program already had a strong curriculum, but there was room for improvement, and I knew that focusing on curriculum development—especially curriculum development that complemented Ooligan Press’s vocational focus with a more academic focus—would send a message to my colleagues that I was ready to play their game.
Were there any obstacles to the program’s success that were/are due to its niche nature?
One of the real puzzles I encountered as Director of Publishing was the question, “How do we attract more applicants when even the people who are interested in a career in publishing don’t realize that a master’s degree is an option and an excellent way to enter this field?” Another challenge is the perception that jobs in publishing exist only in New York City—a perception that dissuades many people who might be interested in a career in publishing if only they knew it was possible in their own backyard.
You were already intimately familiar with publishing and directing student-staffed publishing houses before your time at PSU and Ooligan. What did you learn from your time as director here?
I learned a lot about being a leader. I had very little leadership experience coming to PSU, beyond leading the students in my own classroom. I learned a lot in five years, and while I’m still a far cry from being a paragon of academic leadership, I’ve come a long way.
Can you talk a bit about your accomplishments as director? Is there anything in particular that you’re especially proud of?
I’m hugely proud of the graduates we produced over the last five years—that’s probably the main thing. I’m also really proud that we were able to go from talk of axing the graduate program in Book Publishing before I was hired to hiring a third full-time faculty member (Kathi Inman Berens) just a few years later. Also, Ooligan Press’s finances are in the best shape they’ve ever been in. I could go on forever about things I’m proud of (though I wouldn’t go so far as to claim them for myself—they were all cooperative accomplishments), but I’ll content myself with just one more: I’m proud of the PDXScholar repository of research papers written by students in the graduate program in Book Publishing. There’s some seriously great research in there, and it excites me to see students contributing to the publishing industry’s knowledge of itself.
Is there something you wanted to accomplish but didn’t?
So many things! But most of them are still in the works, so I look forward to seeing them roll out. For example, a collaboration with PubWest to develop a series of online classes for publishing professionals, the new-look Oregon Authors website, an initiative with Multnomah County Library’s self-publishing project, the introduction of a couple new courses and a redesign of the foundational courses for the graduate degree, and so much more.
What are some of your favorite memories from your time with Ooligan?
When Eliot Treichel’s A Series of Small Maneuvers won the Reader’s Choice Award at the Oregon Book Awards. Weekly meetings with Abbey Gaterud, Kathi, and our many wonderful graduate assistants. Every year after the new graduate student orientation, that first social outing when the new students meet their second-year counterparts.
Are there any specific lessons, insights, etc. that you gleaned from working with the students at Ooligan that you’ll be using in your work going forward?
I’ve learned a lot about just how far you can push students before they break! No, really, I’ve learned a lot about just how much you can ask of students, and how they’ll deliver impressive results when you have high expectations.
Your return to Australia feels like an obvious choice given your previous educational work there. What do you specifically enjoy about the country and its educational setting? It feels like the exact opposite of the Pacific Northwest!
There are as many graduate programs in publishing in Australia as there are in the United States, but with a population of only 25 million compared to 300+ million in the United States. This really is, for me, symptomatic of the overrepresentation (the sheer abundance!) of books and literary culture in this country. Yes, it’s a country of beer drinkers and sports fanatics, but it’s also a country of reader and writers. The great surf doesn’t hurt, either!
Do you envision any opportunities for networking between your students here and your new students at Curtin University?
Abbey, Kathi, and I have been talking about an exchange program. We’ve also thrown around the possibility of some kind of co-publishing arrangement. So, yeah, lots of scheming…we’ll see what eventuates!
Even though you’ve barely settled in, do you have any specific goals or desires planned out yet?
A student-staffed publishing house, of course!
Many thanks to Per for his time for this interview. We wish him the best of luck in his ongoing academic endeavors!